First Place - Middle School, National

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy

2023 Youth Design Challenge

This design concept was developed by participants in the Institute’s Youth Design Challenge. The descriptions below are from the team’s competition entry materials.

School: Kalispell Middle School
Location: Kalispell, MT
Coach: Annie Gustafon, Ashley Skare
Team members: Hilda Weber, Padmaja Vatti

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Innovation Details

While wind turbines are an effective form of sustainable energy, they are not without their faults. One issue is the problem of root leakage, where the center of the turbines draws power away from the blades resulting in some turbulence. Another issue is their lack of adaptability to different wind environments. Team BioBreeze of Montana hopes to combat these issues with their “SeedSpinner” turbine. Their design incorporates functions from the Japanese maple seed, dragonfly wings, and aspen leaves. Combining aspects from all three organisms, the blades of their design are made from a light, flexible plastic that is slightly tilted to catch the wind and pick up on the slightest breeze. Not only does this address the issue of root leakage, but the design enables the turbine to be adapted to a variety of environments.

The fact that Team BioBreeze seamlessly incorporated three inspirational organisms into their design is what set them apart from the other teams. The judges were impressed that the team did extensive research and tested their design to see if it could be adapted to a larger scale. Lastly, the team’s insight provided by interviewing local engineers gave the project a more informed perspective.

What is the problem your team solved for this challenge? What is the problem addressed? How is the problem connected to the selected SDG?

Team BioBreeze set out to create a wind turbine that addresses the turbine problems of root leakage, an issue that draws potential power away from the blades, and lack of adaptability to different wind environments. Both of these problems decrease the efficiency, reliability, and availability of wind turbines, that could otherwise help solve our green energy needs.  Improving wind energy will help reach the United Nations Sustainable Goal of Clean and Affordable Energy by 2030.

How was your solution inspired by nature? What (at least two) organisms did you learn from? How effectively did you combine the biological strategies for the final design?

Team BioBreeze’s SeedSpinner was inspired by the Japanese Maple seed, bee and dragonfly wings, and aspen leaves. We discovered how helicopter maple seeds created a vortex on the leading edge, which addressed the issue of root leakage. Insect wings and aspen leaves adapt to different environments, insect wings passively bending, and aspen leaves moving in the slightest and the strongest breeze without breaking. We created a blade inspired by the maple seed and used a material and design based on insect wings and the stem of aspen leaves to make an efficient and adaptable wind turbine inspired by nature’s solutions.

What does your design solution do? How does it solve or mitigate the problem you selected? How did what you learn inform your design?

Our design is meant to collect energy from blades spinning. The blades of our model are made of a light, flexible plastic so that when the wind is harsh the plastic will not break but bend with it. However, when there is a light breeze the blades will pick up on it. If our design were to be implemented into society it could be used to charge devices. It could bring down the use of unclean energy.  The biggest thing we discovered when researching was how efficient a flexible blade would be. We found this in almost all our biological models.